#BreakTheBias: Meet Dr Shagun Sabarwal Who Has Dedicated Her Life To Achieve Gender Equity In Health Space

Image Credits: Dr Shagun Sabarwal, Pixabay, Gov.uk

#BreakTheBias: Meet Dr Shagun Sabarwal Who Has Dedicated Her Life To Achieve Gender Equity In Health Space

Dr Shagun Sabarwal serves as the India Program Director and Global Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Lead at WomenLift Health. She has over 13 years of experience in social policy and development research, focusing on improving gender equality and health in India.

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International Women's Day is celebrated on March 8 globally and is an opportunity to elevate women, shine a spotlight on gender inequality and make a call for much-needed change. On this special occasion, The Logical Indian speaks with the Director of WomenLift Health's India Program, Dr Shagun Sabarwal and captures her perspectives on gendered challenges that women face in their career pathways in health and development fields, and how ecosystems can evolve to ensure a more inclusive and diverse future for all.

Tell us about yourself and your journey so far?

I am Dr Shagun Sabarwal, I serve as the India Program Director and Global Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Lead at WomenLift Health - an organisation that was incubated two years ago to accelerate women leadership in health. We provide support to mid-career women and seek to influence the environments in which they work and live. Prior to this, I have been working in India for many years, primarily in the development sector.

Gender equality has been my passion for a long time. Having grown up in India and gone outside for higher education, I really wanted to work in this field because I feel that all girls and women deserve such opportunities as I have been fortunate enough to receive.

What does WomenLift Health primarily focus on?

WomenLift Health started two years ago with a big question on why, when we look around the world on any topic related to health, we always find that there is a predominance of men at the decision-making tables. Ironically, 70% of the workforce in health are women, yet these women are not reaching the top levels. Only 25% of women hold executive positions, and less than five per cent hold CEO-level positions in health organisations, be it government or private sectors or even NGOs. We believe that elevating women leaders from diverse backgrounds is crucial to improving health outcomes for everyone, everywhere. We are a very action-oriented organisation. We work at multiple levels to empower talented women and provide them with the tools and skills to advance in their journey.

Why do women represent 70% of the health workforce but very few hold higher positions? How does WomenLift Health address these issues?

Once women enter the workforce, they face a number of challenges. Work-life balance is a particular challenge for women because the burden of household and care work falls primarily on them. Even within the workplace, patriarchal norms and sexist attitudes mean that there is an inherent bias against women. They are paid less and often do not get enough opportunities to speak up, grow and lead.

At WomenLift Health, we aim to push change at three levels – individual, institutional and societal. We have a flagship leadership program that equips mid-career women in health with ample resources and strong networks to not only become leaders, but also agents of change. We also seek to bring about change at the systemic and societal level to create an enabling environment for women in health.

What policies could be taken at workplaces to make them inclusive for women?

Any policies or solutions that an organisation comes up with, they should address the challenges that women experience, which are different from those faced by men. Organisations can look at providing a safe environment, flexible working arrangements and transport facilities. There is a need to bring women to the decision-making table, hear their perspectives and include them at the design stage itself. Providing more opportunities for women to grow, investing in skill-building and giving them exposure could also really help women in a big way.

What career advice do you want to give to young women out there?

Focus on your education, as it can be a game-changer. Whatever opportunities you are being given, try to make the most of it. Where possible, actively seek out help and guidance, don't be shy. There is a lot of information and resources available these days on the internet, utilise it in the best way. Don't hold back, just start putting yourself out there with whatever you have and see where the opportunities take you.

How does gender equality affect women's health?

Even though India is doing better on many health indicators, we have still not been able to solve problems like malnutrition. In many places, a woman cannot make the right choices even when she is expecting a child and when it is well-known that the kind of care and nutrition she is given can really affect a baby's health. So, at multiple levels, discrimination against women is a one of the major reasons why our health indicators are not improving the way they should. Even when it comes to basic immunisation, the decision and responsibility of taking a child to the vaccine centre falls on women. Unless we have a gender equality in India, we can't expect to meet any of our health targets.

Is gender equality a concern for men?

Men have to be with us in this journey. Even at WomenLift Health, we really want to influence male allies and build a community of male champions who will make space for women, mentor and sponsor them, and encourage women to speak up, even if means stepping aside on some occasions to give a chance to their female colleagues. Including younger boys in this conversation will also help. When they grow up to be fathers or husbands, they should have a different perspective than previous generations.

What message would you like to convey on this International Women's Day?

The world is changing in a very positive way. People are increasingly questioning the status quo, and thanks to technology, there are now platforms where it is easier than before to have your voice heard. I would tell young girls and women in India to take advantage of such opportunities and raise questions if they are not getting them. Personally, be more self-aware and don't drown in self-doubt. A lot of times we tend to questions ourselves even before the world does. Find innovative ways to push past the barriers which your mind has created. We can do a lot together to push India forward on its path of progress.

Also Read: International Women's Day: Google Doodle Celebrates With Animated Slideshow Featuring Women Of Diverse Cultures

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